BBC Journalist Kidnapped

Freedom of the press is a vital indicator of a nation’s democratic norms or otherwise. 


Compare this with the Palestinian Authority areas where
local journalists have been subjected to physical attacks, intimidation and self-censorship to avoid clashing with the government or local militias. Foreign journalists, while a valuable tool for the PA

 for their role in the media war, have also suffered from interference. Examples include the threats faced by an Italian film crew for broadcasting the brutal lynching of Israeli reservists in Ramallah, and the confiscation of photos of Palestinians celebrating the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers.should be able to report free from intimidation, threats of violence or excessive government interference. The dynamic and open Israeli press is sometimes critical of Israeli policies to the detriment of the country’s external image. Likewise, foreign journalists are free to traverse the country and publish stories without risk of sanction (subject, of course, to basic security considerations).

As lawlessness has become the norm in the Palestinian territories, foreign journalists have faced the threat of kidnap by various Palestinian factions. Now, BBC correspondent Alan Johnston has been kidnapped in Gaza by masked Palestinian gunmen. Only last summer, two Fox News employees were held for two weeks and forced to convert to Islam before being released, while in October 2006, AP photographer Emilio Morenatti was snatched before being set free some 15 hours later. The last foreigner to be kidnapped was Peruvian AFP photographer Jaime Razuri, abducted at gunpoint on 1 January 2007 and released a week later.

The BBC’s reporting has been a regular feature of HonestReporting UK’s communiques. Alan Johnston is currently the only foreign reporter based in Gaza precisely due to the threats faced there. How much of the BBC’s (and other media outlets) reporting is influenced by the risks involved and the need to keep various Palestinian groups or officials “on side”?

There can be no excuse for intimidating or kidnapping members of the foreign press. HonestReporting UK hopes that Alan Johnston will be freed, unharmed, as soon as possible. Only a free press is able to carry out its role effectively and to report on the realities of the region. We also hope that any role that the Hamas-led Palestinian government may play in negotiations for Johnston’s release will not prejudice or colour future BBC reporting of the PA and Israel any more than is currently the case.


Mentioning that Israel is the only country in the Mideast to ever have had a newspaper ombudsman, the Guardian’s readers’ editor Ian Mayes explains this concept to a group of Jordanian journalists and presenters in Amman:

Independence is one basic requirement. Another is visibility: is the ombudsman visible to the reader? Is the reader told clearly enough how the ombudsman can be contacted?

A starting point for a newspaper, radio or television network considering the introduction of the system would be to ask another question: what kind of relationship do you want with your readership or audience? A willingness to consider complaints and to carry corrections should be a sign (not the only one) that the relationship desired is one of civilised interaction based on mutual respect. It should then help to provide a firmer base from which to resist and limit government control.

We agree that an effective regulatory process is essential for holding the media to certain standards and for listening to the complaints of the readership.

HonestReporting UK
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